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Secretary Perry Wants To Layout The Path Forward For U.S. Energy Dominance

SECRETARY PERRY
Photo Credit: William Moon

All you have to know about the plan Secretary Perry has for U.S. energy dominance and his views on the climate change. 

Secretary Perry came to the White House Press Briefing to share with the press corps the observation he has relative to “Energy Week”.  In his opening remarks, he said that “this week, the Trump administration will bring together state, tribal, business, labor — all together, one room — happily sitting down and discussing how we’re going to go forward, what the path forward is for U.S. energy dominance.”

Photo credit: William Moon
Photo credit: William Moon

Perry said that “At DOE and across the administration, we’re ending the bureaucratic blockade that has hindered American energy creation.  The United States has been a net energy exporter — excuse me, a net energy importer since 1953, almost as long as I’ve been alive.  But thanks to innovation and technology advancements, we’re on the brink of changing this, and in very important elements of an American energy portfolio.  Ten years ago, people would never have guessed that by 2018 the United States is expected to be a net energy exporter of natural gas.  American companies can and already have exported U.S. LNG to our international trading partners in Europe and Asia.  Unleashing our full energy potential in this country will lead to robust job growth and expansion in every sector of our economy.”

Perry promised to “reaffirm our commitment to clean energy.  That binary choice between pro-economy and pro-environment that has perpetuated — or, I should say, been perpetuated by the Obama administration has set up a false argument.”

Referring to the  U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Perry said the press missed to state ” that is that the United States already leads the world in lowering emissions.  And we’ve done this through innovation and technology, not by signing agreements. ”

He defended the decision of the U.S. to withdraw from The Paris Agreement in the context of the costly deal for the taxpayers.  “There were billion dollars already out the door,” he continued.

“Instead of preaching about clean energy, this administration will act on it.  I believe no clean energy portfolio is truly complete without nuclear power, and so does the President.  If you want to see the environment and the climate that we live in affected in a positive way, you must include nuclear energy with zero emissions to your portfolio.  Do it safely, do it thoughtfully, do it economically.  Under the leadership of the United States, the world can benefit from that.This administration believes that nuclear energy development can be a game-changer and an important player in the development of our clean-energy portfolio globally.  I believe we can achieve this by focusing on the development of technology, for instance, advanced nuclear reactors, small modular reactors,” Secretary Perry said before taking the questions.

  • On nuclear power, what specifically do you want to do to accelerate its development?  And as has been seen in Georgia, there are still problems.  The Obama administration greenlighted two plants; they’re bogged down primarily because a lot of Americans haven’t built a nuclear power plant in three decades.  There’s a technology gap there.  So how do you deal with that?  Number one. And number two, if this administration does advance production of nuclear power, does it believe Yukka Mountain needs to be opened up, or that needs to be reconsidered as a repository for nuclear waste?

SECRETARY PERRY:  Well, it’s I think a very astute question you ask about the issue.  For 30 years, the supply chain basically was stagnant.  It was allowed to atrophy if you will.

This administration truly believes in an all-of-the-above approach, allowing nuclear energy to come and play an important role in a very diverse portfolio.  So the idea that overregulating an industry — that is one of the challenges.  And it’s not just about the United States from the standpoint of our being able to have an energy source that is reliable, that is zero emission.  It’s about America maintaining — or regaining may be a better word — our leadership role in nuclear energy, because the Russians and the Chinese are very actively engaged across the board, globally, to go put their technology to gain and leverage their political place, if you will, using nuclear energy as one of the levers.

So this is a lot bigger issue than just allowing the United States a couple of plants in the southern part of the United States.  It’s a lot bigger than that.  It’s a lot bigger than just making sure that Westinghouse continues to be a stable American company.  This is a massively important issue for the security of America and the security of America’s allies.

So keeping that in place, I think it’s important for us to look at the options, clearly having a plan to keep America engaged in the development of nuclear energy.  One of the things we want to do at DOE is to make nuclear energy cool again, from the standpoint of — if you remember when we were kids — well, sorry, you’re nowhere near my age — but when I was younger in the ’60s and a lot of kids wanted to go into the nuclear energy field.  At my alma mater, there were a lot of young boys and girls who wanted to be nuclear engineers.

That’s not so much the case today because this industry has been strangled all too often by government regulations.  But we need as a country, I think, to again bring us to that place where the nuclear energy is a part of a portfolio and to be able to sell it in great truthfulness and honesty about what it can add to America both from an environmental standpoint and from a security standpoint.

  • What about Yucca Mountain?

SECRETARY PERRY:  Well, you know, we’ve made no decisions at DOE, nor has this administration, from the standpoint of where we’re going to look.  Obviously, those are all options but there’s been no decision made about where it will be going.

  • You mentioned the Paris Agreement. Do you believe, that climate change is happening and that human activity has made it worse?

SECRETARY PERRY:  Here’s what I believe — and I’m pretty much on the record but I love getting the opportunity to talk about it again — is the climate is changing. A man is having an impact on it.  I’ve said that time after time.  The idea that we can’t have an intellectual conversation about just what are the actual impacts.  I mean, as late as this last week, an undersecretary for the Obama administration, Steve Koonin — he believes that we need to have a sit-down and have a conversation.  That the data is not, from his perspective — and obviously he was a good enough scientist to be asked by the Obama administration to come in and be an undersecretary at the DOE — he doesn’t think that the science is settled.  So why not have a conversation about that?

I mean, what is the other side?  The people who say the science is settled, it’s done — if you don’t believe that you’re a skeptic, a Luddite.  I don’t buy that.  I don’t think there is — I mean, this is America.  Have a conversation.  Let’s come out of the shadows of hiding behind your political statements and let’s talk about it.  What’s wrong with that?  And I’m full well — I can be convinced, but let’s talk about it.

  • You said that you do believe that climate change is happening and you do believe that human activity is contributing to it.  So the discussion you’re asking for is just what to do about it?

SECRETARY PERRY:  Sure.  Is that okay?  I mean, don’t you think we ought to do that?

  • It’s not up for me to say whether it’s okay —

SECRETARY PERRY:  But why?  I mean, you’re an American citizen.  You ought to have the part in that.

  • Secretary Perry, you have a lot of energy. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY PERRY:  I come from a place with a lot of energy.

  • You had said that it’s not binary — the environment and energy coexisted.  But the real question is, as far as fracking and clean coal — opponents to that say that, in fact, that it isn’t environmentally safe and that fracking and coal are going to destroy the environment.  

SECRETARY PERRY:  Coming from a state that probably did as much hydraulic fracking as any other state in the nation — and interestingly, a number of things happened in Texas over the decade-plus that I was the governor.  One was, there were more jobs created in the state than any other.  There were 7 million people added to population roles while I was governor.  There arguably, economically, that the state led the country.

There’s also a lesser-known story that you probably don’t know about but I’m going to share it with you, and that is that during that period of time you had this massive job growth, you had this population growth of 7 million — you know what 7 million people are?  That’s a lot of pickup trucks on highways.  That’s a lot of non-point source pollution, correct?

Your conventional wisdom would tell you because of where you are geographically, the latitude, that you’re prone because of that big petrochemical manufacturing capacity along the Gulf Coast, to really drive up ozone levels.  There’s a lot of reasons that conventional wisdom would say you did a really fine job of creating wealth and jobs, but you played hell with the economy — or, excuse me, with the environment.  And the fact is we didn’t.  We drove down nitrogen oxide levels by over 60 percent, SO2 levels in the mid-50s, and carbon dioxide levels by almost 20 percent reduction.  Isn’t that our goal?

My point is, Texas, which is the 12th largest economy in the world, did exactly what I said.  You can have economic growth and you can have the environment affected in a positive way.  It can happen.

  • You are saying that climate change — a man has affected climate change and that the discussion is about what we do with it, not whether or not we’ve affected it.  So going forward, that’s resolved.

SECRETARY PERRY:  No, what I said was:  Climate is changing, always has.  A man at this particular point of time is having the effect on it.  How much effect is what’s at debate here? And more importantly, what is the United States going to do to affect that?  Are we going to sign an agreement with somebody that really doesn’t call anybody to making any changes?  You look at that agreement and what China and what India are required to do and they’re nothing.  How many coal plants?

  • 300.

SECRETARY PERRY:  300-plus coal plants we built in India.  So why would we sign on to an agreement that is not holding other people to account and asking us to give $3 billion?  I mean, that’s the first ante.  And the Trump Administration said that’s nonsense.  I agree with them it’s nonsense.

Now, can we agree we ought to have a conversation as a people?  Intellectually engaged, not screaming at each other, and not standing up in the middle of my speeches and saying you’re a climate denier, when the fact is, I just want to have a conversation about this.

  • Isn’t that what the scientists have done?

SECRETARY PERRY:  No, they haven’t.  Because when you have a scientist like Steve Koonin who stands up and says the science isn’t settled yet, I can say, okay, well let’s have a conversation and get these guys together.  In my Senate committee, I said let’s — Senate hearing — I said let’s have a conversation about the blue team and red team getting together and talking this out.

  • The  EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, earlier this month said — and he was quoting — he appeared to be quoting the Department of Labor’s statistics.  He said, very simply, that the U.S. has added almost 50,000 jobs in the coal sector.  In fact, the coal portion — he was referring to since the fourth quarter — in fact, has only grown 2,400 jobs, and in the last month it only great 400.  There is only a total of 51,000 coal jobs in this country right now.  So is it misleading Americans — is the administration misleading Americans about where the real job growth is right now in this industry?

SECRETARY PERRY:  I don’t think so.  And I was —

  • Is coal a growth industry?

SECRETARY PERRY:  I was governor a long enough period of time that job numbers come and go.  They go up and down, back and forth.  What this administration wants to do is to send a message across the country and around the world that America is going to use all of its energy resources in a thoughtful, appropriate, and economically feasible way.

The coal industry is part of that.  When I had conversations with my counterparts in Rome at the G7, when I go to the clean coal ministerial in China, in Beijing earlier this month, we talked about coal.  And we talked about the opportunity of American coal to be sold globally.

So the idea that we’re going to be continuing to develop that fossil fuel, that’s a reality.  That’s real.  We’re going to use coal as a producer of energy for years to come.  I think the question for us is, are we able to do it in a way that is economically feasible, environmentally sensitive?  And I think the answer is yes.  Petra Nova in Houston, the great example of that.

So the point is, taking that snapshot and saying, okay, this is a static picture may be a little bit unfair.

  • And then following up quickly, if I can, since you get behind the scenes in ways that we don’t.  During the campaign, you famously said of candidate Trump that his candidacy was cancer on conservatism.

SECRETARY PERRY: That has nothing to do with energy today. (Laughter.)

  •  Questions have been asked here a lot in this briefing room.  The President himself during the campaign called climate change a “hoax.”  Have you had that conversation with him?  Do you know if he shares your view that, in fact, the climate is changing and human activity at this point in time is contributing to that change?

SECRETARY PERRY:  I have not had that conversation with him.

  • I want to ask you about your concerns about the electrical grid and what you all are doing to ensure not just its safety, but further growth and development.  And on gas prices, are you concerned about the direction they’re going?  Should American people expect gas prices to continue to fall?

SECRETARY PERRY:  So let’s get over on the grid.  Obviously, the Department of Energy has a both scientific, they have a historic reason to be involved with that.  One is that, at one of our national labs, we have a test grid of which we are able to go out — one of the reasons that the Department of Homeland Security and DOE is involved with grid security is that DOE operates a substantial grid — a test grid, if you will — where we can go out and actually break things.  We can infest it with different viruses and what have you to be able to analyze how we’re going to harden our grid so that Americans can know that our country is doing everything that it can to protect, defend this country against either cyber attack that would affect our electrical security or otherwise.

So the ability for us to be able to continue to lead the world — I think we all know the challenges.  We saw the reports as late as today of what’s going on in Ukraine.  And so protecting this country, its grid against not just cyber, but also against physical attacks, against attacks that may come from Mother Nature, weather-related events — all of that is a very important part of what DOE, DHS is doing together.

  • You’ve mentioned the Paris climate agreement a number of times.  President Trump said he wanted to get a better deal. Has he or you or anyone in this administration begun that process?  And do you think it’s possible, given that a number of leaders have said it’s a deal that can’t be renegotiated?

SECRETARY PERRY:  I’m pretty sure the President of the United States wakes up every day thinking about how to get a better deal in a host of different things.  Specifically to that, I never said, Mr. President, let’s talk about what the better deal is.

With that said, I don’t have a problem — whether it was renegotiating NAFTA, which some of you have been around here long enough to know that I was involved in the original NAFTA negotiations — and I think to renegotiate the deal.  Get a better one.  That’s what President Trump does.  That’s his mindset.  And I think our allies and/or those that may not be our allies need to understand that that’s where we’re going to be coming from.

  •  This morning, President Macron of France called President Trump and invited him to come to Bastille Day, July 14th.  Do you see this as a way that the French are taking up his suggestion for negotiating a new climate change agreement?  And would you urge him to make the trip?

SECRETARY PERRY:  I would always look at an invitation to a party as a good thing.  (Laughter.)

  • Mr. Secretary, you’re very enthusiastic about nuclear power and the potential that it has.  A lot of people are still scared of nuclear power because of nuclear waste and nuclear plant safety.  And this has been happening since the ’60s when one television documentarian said that really it hasn’t changed in terms of what we know to do with nuclear waste, which isn’t much.  Can you assure the American people that nuclear waste and nuclear plant safety are such that we should expand nuclear power in this country?

SECRETARY PERRY:  You know, I would reflect that — or deflect that, if he was here, to President Macron of France, who gets 70-plus percent of their power from nuclear energy.

Now, this is the country that wouldn’t buy Texas beef for some reason, yet 76 percent of their energy comes from nuclear power.  So the French, who I’ve always thought was a little bit different — (laughter) — and that’s in a good way.  You know, they recognized us as a state back in the 1830s, so we actually have a really close, personal relationship with the French.  We like them.  We had an embassy in Paris.  They had one in Austin; as a matter of fact it’s still there, called the French Legation.  Invite all of you to come and see it.

But the French are a little different when it comes to some things.  And one of those I would find it really interesting — our French friends are very comfortable getting 76 percent, thereabouts, of their energy from nuclear, and I can assure you they’re very fond of getting it at the rate they’re getting it.

 

 

 

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About the author

Ksenija Pavlovic

Ksenija Pavlovic

Ksenija Pavlovic is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Pavlovic Today, The Chief White House Correspondent.

Pavlovic was a Teaching Fellow and Doctoral Fellow in the Political Science department at Yale University, Lead Instructor in International Affairs and Security and Politics Law and Economics programs at Yale Global Scholars, Head Writing Fellow at the Yale Graduate Writing Center, Fellow of the “Research and Travel Award in Grand Strategy” from International Security Studies (ISS) at Yale University, Fellow of the Roger Hertog Global Strategy Initiative in Religious Violence at Columbia University, a Doctoral candidate in Political Conflict and Peace Building Processes at Complutense University in Madrid, Fellow of the OSI Global Supplementary Grant Program, and a Visiting Doctoral Fellow at the Juan March Institute. She holds an M.Sc. in European Politics from the London School of Economics, an M.A. in American Politics, and a B.A. in Journalism and Communication from the University of Belgrade. She speaks English, Serbian, Croatian, and Spanish.

Pavlovic has interviewed exclusively pivotal figures including Arianna Huffington, Sir Richard Branson, President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim, Karlie Kloss, filmmaker and founder of the Webby awards Tiffany Shlain, film director Lars von Trier, actors Adam Brody, Monica Bellucci, fashion designers Adolfo Dominguez, Tommy Hilfiger and Donna Karan, publisher and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes; the world No.1 tennis player Novak Djokovic; novelist Martin Amis, as well as big names in the governmental arena such as the former President of Serbia Boris Tadic, the leading members of the first democratic Serbian government and Milorad Dodik, President of the Serbian entity of BIH. Moreover, Ms. Pavlovic has exclusively covered the Cannes Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Sarajevo Film Festival, London Film Festival, Madrid Fashion Week, The Madrid Open, and a range of other international benefit and political events.

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